When you read the Doctrine and Covenants along with at least part of the historical background of each revelation contained therein, the words take on a much more personal meaning. I’ve read the words of the Doctrine and Covenants before, but I have never truly studied the whole book, and as I do so, I am strengthening my personal witness of the Prophet Joseph Smith and his relationship to the Lord.
Section 5 of the Doctrine and Covenants was revealed to Joseph about eight months after Section 3 was received. Martin Harris, a man 22 years Joseph Smith’s senior, had done a great deal to help Joseph in his work of translating the work which was eventually published as the Book of Mormon. However, he pushed Joseph to let him borrow the 116-page manuscript of the work they had translated so far and lost it. Section 3 covers the Lord’s feelings about the matter. Section 5 is addressed to Martin Harris, but it is important for the reader to have the background of the lost manuscript.
Joseph Smith had been given by the Lord an ancient record contained upon plates of brass. He was in the process of translating this record, but he had been given very strict instructions to never let anyone see the plates, unless he was first instructed to by the Lord. Thus, Martin Harris had never seen the actual plates. He had a great desire to see them, however, and asked Joseph to seek permission to show him the plates. After the experience of the lost manuscript pages and the severe chastisement Joseph received from the Lord, Joseph was not at all inclined to disobey again.
It is interesting, however, to ponder upon how lonely Joseph must have felt in his responsibility (at this point) to be the only witness to the plates. The vast majority of the world mocked him and called him a liar. In verse 7 of Section 5, the Lord shares one reason why the plates were not to be shown to the world:
Behold, if they [those who wanted to see the plates] will not believe my words, they would not believe you, my servant Joseph, if it were possible that you should show them all these things which I have committed unto you.
Here the Lord discusses the principle of faith. He says in the scriptures that faith must precede the miracle. No sign is enough to convince the disbelieving that the gospel is true. No scholarly or historical evidence is enough to convince critics that the Book of Mormon is true. This is very intentional on the Lord’s part. It must be faith on the part of the individual exercised to gain a personal witness from the Holy Ghost that these things are true. That is a witness that cannot be proven, nor can it be denied by those who receive it.
The Lord goes on to promise Joseph that he will not be alone in bearing his burden forever. Verses 11–13 say:
And in addition to your testimony, the testimony of three of my servants, whom I shall call and ordain, unto whom I will show these things, and they shall go forth with my words that are given through you. Yea, they shall know of a surety that these things are true, for from heaven will I declare it unto them. I will give them power that they may behold and view these things [the plates] as they are.
In addition, all those who believe the words of these witnesses, as well as all of the words of the Lord, shall be visited with the manifestation of the Spirit (D&C 5:16). Joseph is chastised again by the Lord, in verse 21, to repent and to stop listening to the “persuasions of men.” However, despite Martin’s failure to fully learn his lesson after losing the 116 pages, the Lord tells Joseph that if Martin humbles himself in mighty prayer and remains faithful, then he may be granted his desire.
Martin did, in fact, repent. He became one of the three witnesses to the Book of Mormon the Lord spoke of in Section 5, and he did testify of the reality of the plates and their heavenly source.
What is very personal to me is that, also contained in Section 5 are very specific instructions to Joseph Smith on how much longer he should translate. After giving Joseph instructions about what to tell Martin Harris and, in effect, telling Joseph that now the ball would be in Martin’s court and that he shouldn’t worry about it anymore, the Lord tells Joseph to translate only a few more pages and then to take a break.
Translation was very exhausting work, and I’m sure Joseph welcomed a break, but the Lord does not give that as His reason. He knew there were many people trying to destroy Joseph and trying to get their hands on the plates. The Lord knew their plans. He forbade Joseph to continue the work in order to protect him. Section 5 ends with the Lord saying:
Yea, for this cause I have said: Stop, and stand still until I command thee, and I will provide means whereby thou mayest accomplish the thing which I have commanded thee. And if thou art faithful in keeping my commandments, thou shalt be lifted up at the last day.
These types of instruction witness to me of Joseph’s humility and integrity. What imposter would have fabricated so many revelations from God berating and chastising himself? In addition, who would have fabricated details which seem so mundane?
We are so blessed to have the Doctrine and Covenants. This book of scripture contains modern revelations which answer so many questions about the gospel. These truths were lost; they are now restored. Read these words and obtain your own spiritual witness that they are true.
This article was written by Doris White, a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
Doris White is a native of Oregon and graduated from Brigham Young University with a degree in English and a minor in Editing. She loves to talk with others about the gospel of Jesus Christ.